If you’re working in Silicon Valley in a job where you must network and generally make connections with others, you will find in your experience that many, if not most of those others tend to be male. In my experience so far, it has been most. The tech-heavy world of Silicon Valley is undeniably a boys’ club.
Before you throw anecdotal examples of your mom’s friend who’s a CEO of a tech startup or the female code geek you went to college with, look at the evidence – Google’s Mountain View campus was not even able to reach their 30% goal by 2014, and only 17% of their tech employees were female. Feel free to not believe me here, but an inside voice gave me the heads up that the numbers are rounding up, and these details matter.
This discussion of Google’s gender ratio began for me at my first networking event. I tagged along with Mimi, my intern mentor/Jedi master, in order to observe her use the force/her networking skills and learn a thing or two. I began a conversation with a friendly Goog (a Mimi-ism I’ve picked up on), and began asking him questions about life on the Google campus. He prompted further questions, and since I had recently been surprised that JPL’s female employment rate was about 30% (a pleasant surprise, sad as that is), I inquired about how Google compared.
Unfortunately, the numbers at Google seemed to have reflected the demographics of the Silicon Valley tech world in general. At this particular networking event, it seemed that only around 20-30% of the attendees were women – and I was approached by a disproportionate number of them. There seemed to be a banding-together effect right off the bat. The check-in table where name tags were available was manned by a woman (no pun intended) and it appeared that two other young ladies, who claimed no affiliation with the company hosting the event, had joined her to help out.
Right away, one of the women laughingly declared “Just to warn you two, it seems like we girls are in the minority here!” She passed it off as a joke – but if it’s a joke, why was she hiding at the girls’ table instead of, well, networking? I say that not to shame her – it’s perfectly understandable to feel uncomfortable (even unsafe) when vastly outnumbered by men, especially considering this event was held at a bar. But I do want to point out that there was some substance to her joke about the sausage-fest that is the SV tech bubble.
Now this is the part where people say things like “Well, women just aren’t as interested in tech jobs as men. Maybe if girls were more ambitious…” Then comes the part where I slap you on the wrist and wag my finger at you for blaming sexism on girls once again. The numbers don’t reflect some kind of inherent connection between having a penis and being interested in technology, in the same way that the fact that Google has only 2% black employees does not reflect any inherent black disinterest in tech (cornered you there, didn’t I). It may be true that less women are interested in technology than men. However, this discrepancy can be attributed to the fact that on a larger social scale, women are simply neither encouraged nor expected to be interested in technology. It’s got little to do with gender discrimination among hiring managers, and everything to do with the way we bring up girls in our society.
As the powerhouse that it is, Google has a responsibility to give young girls, black youth, and especially girls of color, the opportunity to learn about technology. So I decided to do a little digging. Here are the highlights:
- The Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for women in technology
My thoughts: Awesome! Google, you’re starting to get your shit together. I can only hope they don’t use this as a reason to stop, but use it as a jumping off point. While it’s fantastic to help out young women who already have cultivated an interest in technology, it’s also important to realize that social norms prevent many women from even reaching that point. Think even earlier, Goog. Also, the Anita Borg scholarship began in 2004. It’s been ten years and the numbers aren’t great. The thing about Google is that it has influence because of its capital, and its cultural influence. This brings me to my next, most recent, and most important find….
- Made With Code program for girls.
My thoughts: This is really a huge step and I want to give Google some serious props here. The google blog gives this excellent and exciting breakdown of this project, announcing ”Collaborations with organizations like Girl Scouts of the USA and Girls, Inc.” and “A commitment of $50 million to support programs that can help get more females into computer science”. Google is backing this program with money, in amounts high enough for me to take this seriously. NOW we’re talking. This is a financially backed, culturally influential thing that Google is doing. Finally!
They even have a project for girls about coding a 3D-printed bracelet, which makes me believe that they are even going to –gasp- celebrate femininity instead of suppressing it while teaching girls about tech!? I could cry tears of happiness. Unlike the Anita Borg scholarship, this program is brand spankin’ new, so I can’t talk trash about how it’s not showing any results yet. I can only cross my fingers that this program keeps momentum through the years, and doesn’t fade out as yet another attempt, because it has HUGE potential.
I’m not going to lie, I began writing here with an intensely critical eye and all the intention to groan about how Google isn’t doing enough to change their less-than-ideal gender balance. However, with further insight, I was pleasantly surprised, mostly with the Made with Code program. While Google certainly can’t change the way society sees women in tech, I feel like if any company can make a major influence, it’s them, and Made With Code gives me a lot of hope because other companies will see google doing this. Feminists, let’s keep our eyes on this program for a few years. I am hopeful and excited about its takeoff and longevity, as well as the cultural influence it will hopefully have. I started this article with a grim outlook, but it seems there may be a glimmer of possibility here.
So that leaves us with some food for thought: We want results, we want 50/50 gender demographics at Google. What do you think – is Made with Code a major step in that direction?